And who is Thomas Malthus?

Martin Bailey cmbb at
Fri Apr 26 12:03:53 EDT 2002

At the time of Thomas Malthus' writings, it was fashionable to consider how
best to deal with the working classes: Give them more now that industrial
and agricultural production was leaping ahead or keep them at a subsistence
level.  Mathus was in the camp that declared that raising "the standard of
living" ( a 20th century term) would result in the coarser classes having
more children.  This increase in progeny would ultimately bring these folks
back to subsistence levels of life.  Adam Smith, on the other hand, felt
that giving the lower classes more would encourage them to be even more
productive thereby further increasing the wealth of nations.

Adam Smith saw himself as a moral philosopher as I think Thomas Malthus did
too.  Today, we classify Adam Smith as an economist and Mathus - for some
reason or other by some - as either a biologist or an ecologist.

I was brought to my attention - offline - that predation is a major factor
in keeping bugs and beasts from breeding themselves out of house and home.
I do not disagree.  But the next question then becomes: What stops the
predators from eating up all of their prey?

The most obvious answer is that bunny rabbits bred up faster than cruel fox
can catch them.

Alas, the paleontologist tells us that all is a fairy tale.  The geological
record is filled with extinctions going back for eons.  For one reason or
another all sorts of things that were capable of cell division have died
off.  Which is where Darwin comes into my ramblings.

But first things first.  It was Herbert Spencer who coined the expression
"the survival of the fittest."  Social Darwinism.  Spencer stated that there
would always be the rich - the fittest.  And the poor.  Darwin, on the other
hand, (excuse the simplifications) pointed out that any particular organism'
s ability to survive depended on fortuitous variations in its offspring.
Changes that allowed the organism to deal with changes in its environment as
they arose.

So the study of the emergence of sub-species in butterflies makes perfect
sense.  The challenge is to tie these studies to environmental change if you
want the rest of the world to listen to you.

And if you think that biology is not ideology, think again.  If Malthus or
Spencer were alive today and citizens, not of Britain, but U.S.A., they
would be registered Republicans.

Martin Bailey


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